What’s in a Name – “WILLAMETTE”?
First, we pronounce it will am ette.
Next, when we considered what to name our new company in the mid-1980’s we settled upon the name of where we first gathered our raw material, The Willamette National Forest.
Finally, what is the origin of that name? When fur trappers began exploring the west side of this region they encountered indians from the Kalapuya Indian tribe that lived in what we now call the Willamette Valley. Fur trappers thought the Indians called the place where they camped “Walamut” Trappers began using that place name as well. After the custom was established trappers and settlers learned the Indians referred a great waterfall at the north end of the valley as “Walamut” which trappers learned meant ‘grand and noble’. Settlers thought enough of the word to use it to name falls, Willamette falls and the river that flows northward through the valley to that waterfall the Willamette River and indeed the valley itself – Willamette Valley. Then there is the Willamette National Forest. We jumped on the bandwagon with our name Willamette Evergreen. Do you see a pattern here?
The Christmas Wreath Story
A wreath on our door is among our most ancient customs – here we connect with many generations of people going back 2,000 years. During the time of the Roman Empire wreaths, as an earthly halo were first placed on heads as an award. After removal from the head wreaths gradually became a wall adornment.
When the Christian church began taking shape in the first 400 years after the death of Jesus, it first endured an interval as an outlaw faith. New converts used various symbols to identify themselves to one another and one of these symbols was the wreath placed on the front door. Later in history Christian missionaries competed with Druids for the attention of northern Europeans. Druids assigned mystical attributes to Oak trees (observing they were the trees most often hit by lightning). In response Christian missionaries in the 8th century turned to conifers equating characteristics of evergreens with everlasting life. Through the war of symbols and our persistent pleasure in handicraft work wreaths on the door made of evergreen boughs have become one of our most enduring customs.
Today we enjoy wreaths and other craft evergreen products because they remind us it is Christmas and thus time to slow down to appreciate all generations of our family – to rekindle the childlike glee of gift-giving & receiving and to have fun decorating for the festive party and meal. In a quiet way these gifts of winter foster the urge for peace and renewal within us – And for many of us this renewal may touch spiritual depths.
In the U.S. wreaths are made, not surprisingly, mostly in states that grow conifers. On the east coast wreaths come from Maine made of Balsam firs and from North Carolina made from Fraser Firs. The other major source is Oregon. Among wholesale florists wreaths made from Noble fir boughs are considered the ‘Mercedes Benz’ of wreaths! Why? Because Noble firs are well-named (the name comes from the Scottish botanist, David Noble who explored Oregon 200 years ago) for they have noble characteristics. The needles are firm without being prickly like Spruce trees; the color is deep green or even blue-green; and they maintain their fresh color for a long time. You may have experienced this yourself that a wreath hung on the door in the northern states around Thanksgiving continues to look fresh through February. Wreaths sent south will endure the warm air well past New Years – even in Hawaii (but please keep them out of direct sunlight). A little water misting to keep them cool (remember their journey began high in the Cascade Mountains) is all they ask.
Some of you will receive our garlands made of Western Red Cedar. Think lacy thoughts; think here is how I can go festive-crazy; how about draping the front door? How about stair banisters? Windows? You are crazy! Thank-you. Have you looked closely at our English holly wreaths – also front door – but also table centerpiece? If not this year then – imagine the possibilities of a future Christmas!
In short wreaths and other craft evergreens identify well with family and festive warmth. They carry a fun and deep message. As you decorate your home this season recall that you are connecting with 100 generations of people who found the same natural way to say “Welcome to our warm Home”.